Case Study Lake Onondaga

Lake Onondaga is located north of the city of Syracuse in New York State. The lake has a surface area of 11.9 square kilometers (4.6 square miles) and receives water from a drainage basin of 648 square kilometers (248 square miles). In the late 1880s and early 1900s, Lake Onondaga was a prized recreation resort for the citizens of Syracuse, but as the city grew and became more industrialized, the lake became more and more polluted. From the time Syracuse was founded, the city directly dumped raw sewage into the lake. In 1884, the Solvay Process Company began the production of soda ash and released high concentrations of salt (chloride, sodium, and calcium) directly into the lake. Swimming was banned in the lake in 1940, primarily due to health issues relating to the sewage. In 1946, Allied-Signal Corp. began chlorine production using the mercury cell process and directly discharged the mercuric waste into the lake. In 1970, fishing was banned due to mercury pollution. As a result of these uncontrolled pollutions events, steps were taken to slowly improve the quality of water in the lake. The city of Syracuse slowly upgraded its sewage treatment facilities by installing primary treatment in 1925, constructing the METRO wastewater facility in 1960, and upgrading the METRO to secondary and tertiary treatment in 1979. In 1977, Allied-Signal closed a chlorinated benzene plant and one chlorine production facility. In 1986, the soda ash manufacturing operation was closed. In 1995, Lake Onondaga was added to the Federal Superfund National Priority List. In more recent years, remediation efforts have been planned but little direct action has been taken, other than limiting current pollutant inputs to the lake, conducting studies, and planning for the future. For example, the 1990 Onondaga Lake Management Conference initiated research and planned remediation projects. In 1992 the Corps of Engineers completed the Lake Onondaga Water Technical Report, outlining possible lake remediation alternatives. In 1994, aquatic habitat restoration projects began. In 1996, Allied-Signal started a Remedial Investigation and Feasibility Study for the lake. Even with all of these remediation-planning efforts, Lake Onondaga is still considered by most environmentalists the most contaminated lake in the United States.

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